24 June 2024

Confronting military greenhouse gas emissions

Global militaries are some of the largest carbon polluters on the planet. Yet we still know very little about their overall contribution to climate change. Militaries generally do not report their emissions to international climate bodies. If they do, their reporting is often inadequate, leaving significant gaps in accounting. This collection of high-quality research seeks to fill the gap and open the ’black box’ on military emissions. Here are some of the messages conveyed by the paper on different clusters:

  • We offer one of the first calculations of US military carbon emissions across all four branches of the US military: if the US military were a country, it would be one of the top-50 emitters of carbon emissions in the world.
  • If the world’s militaries were a single nation, they would have the fourth highest carbon footprint (5.5% of global emissions). Given the degree of control that governments have over the sizes of their militaries, there is a huge and largely unrecognised opportunity to reduce emissions.
  • While the defence sector is essential for national security it consumes vast amounts of fossil fuels. Despite efforts to reduce emissions, the contribution of the defence sector to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is expected to rise due to increasing global military expenditure.
  • The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the future reconstruction of Gaza alone are on par with the annual emissions of New Zealand. One aspect of this (and any) war that is less discussed is the environmental impact of the conflict, including the GHG emissions associated with the use of materials and resources by the warring factions.
  • The total GHG emissions that can be attributed to the war in Ukraine have increased to 175 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2 e) over an 24-month period, more than the annual GHG emissions from a highly industrialised country like Belgium.

These are extracts from an interactive research report authored by Benjamin Neimark et al., published in 2024 by the Queen Mary University of London. The full paper can be accessed through the link here.

Photo credit: Todd Diemer via Unsplash